If you get dragged into somebody else's crisis, how do you avoid reputation collateral damage? Answer? Proactively stake out your position; differentiate yourself; reinforce to stakeholders what makes your brand compelling.
The violent labour dispute and deaths at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine have turned the global media spotlight on to South Africa's mining industry. As of mid-September, Anglo American is emerging as a winner.
While its own workforce was not on strike, Anglo American noted the growing intimidation of its employees by Lonmin strikers who wished to broaden the dispute. As the violence worsened - and despite the financial cost - it took the decision on 12 September to suspend its own mining operations. For a b2b business whose brand positioning is 'people making a difference', the announcement was pitch perfect:
'Our platinum business has today announced the (immediate) suspension of its Rustenburg operations in order to protect the safety and security of its employees from outside intimidation... our employees, who want to go to work, are being prevented from doing so and are being intimidated by the threat of violence. The suspension will continue until such time as operations can be safely resumed ... the safety of our employees is our absolute priority.'
Across the world, from Bloomberg to the BBC, Pan-African News Wire to The Star in South Africa, newspapers and broadcasters led with the company's commitment to its people. South Africa's Business Day carried the press release effectively verbatim; Canada's Globe & Mail report was typical, starting its story: 'Anglo American has shut down its entire platinum operations ... to try to ensure the safety of its 26,000 staff, as intimidation and unrest in the country's mining sector spreads.'
Anglo American's platinum business is under pressure following a collapse in platinum prices in 2008. But in all its statements, while acknowledging 'the risk to (the mine's) long-term viability', it has prioritised people.
What was good for employees was good for investors. Within two days of its announcement, Anglo American's share price was up almost ten per cent.
During a crisis, organisations are often tempted to think about the business implications first. But effective crisis managers communicate messages that reflect the interests and concerns of all their stakeholders. In priority order, these are: people, environment, property and only then finance.
Crises offer the opportunity to reinforce your brand positioning. Express concern and commit to action but offer perspective and contextualise it within the parameters of your corporate narrative. This ensures consistency across your comms and greater understanding of your firm by stakeholders.